Monday, January 7, 2019

A Look Back At Some Of The Events In Boxing In 2018

As has become the norm here at The Boxing Truth® a new year begins with two columns that will be released here on the website to officially kick off the 2019 schedule. Before this observer releases his “Boxing Wishlist For 2019”, I feel it is appropriate to look back at some of the notable events that took place in the sport in 2018. Obviously, it would be impossible for one to discuss every single event that takes place in any sport during a calendar year. What the reader will be offered in this column will be in some ways a retrospective on some of the events I felt were noteworthy throughout the year.

If one were to ask me to describe the year 2018 in Boxing in a single sentence, I would say that it was a year of change. Now, I know some readers are probably saying to themselves “Beau, that is an easy and general answer” and/or, would perhaps say that my response would be vague and not specific. What could be interpreted by my referring to 2018 as a year of change?

There are after all several world championships that change hands throughout a year, but what I mean dear reader is change both as far as eras coming to an end as well as a significant change in the landscape of how the sport is offered to and consumed by the public. In terms of fighters who hung up their gloves in 2018, one fighter stands out clearly in my mind. Roy Jones.

Jones, a future Hall of Famer, who dominated the sport for much of his career in winning world championships from the 160lb. Middleweight division all the way to the Heavyweight division entered the ring for what he said was the final time early in 2018 in his hometown of Pensacola, FL. Before a hometown crowd of supporters Jones, competing as a Cruiserweight scored a lopsided ten round unanimous decision over Scott Sigmon. The victory over Sigmon on February 8th of 2018 was Jones’ sixty-sixth victory in a seventy-five fight career that began twenty-nine years earlier in 1989. Jones’ exit from competition at forty-nine years of age signaled the end of an era in the history of Boxing.

For the majority of the 1990’s and early 2000’s there was no doubt that Jones was the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Using an athletic and unorthodox style that bedeviled many of his opponents, Jones dominated his competition and continued to do so with relative ease as he moved up in weight as his career progressed. While the prime of Jones’ career was highlighted in my mind by his time as one of two Light-Heavyweight world champions along with Dariusz Michalczewski throughout the second half of the 1990’s on through the early 2000’s.

Although Michalczewski held the WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship for several years and went undefeated until suffering his first loss in October 2003 to the late Julio Gonzalez, it was Jones who was regarded as the top Light-Heavyweight of his era with most regarding him as the Undisputed Light-Heavyweight world champion. An encounter yours truly wished had taken place, particularly when I began my career covering Boxing and other combat sports in the mid-1990’s would have been a fight between Jones and Michalczewski.

Perhaps because a bout between the two never took place, Jones had to deal with criticism from some throughout his prime for the opinions that he lacked a career-defining fight. While clearly the only fighter at least in terms of the Light-Heavyweight division that could have compared to Jones in his prime in terms of dominance would be Michalczewski, Jones career-defining moment came in March 2003 when he became the first former Middleweight world champion since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897 to win a World Heavyweight championship by defeating WBA Heavyweight world champion John Ruiz with a twelve round unanimous decision.

The opinion of this observer with regard to Roy Jones’ decision to move back down in weight after beating Ruiz rather than retiring at his peak is one that is well known to those who have read my work both in print as well as online. It can be said however, that Jones’ gradual decline after the Ruiz fight as well as his decision to continue to compete well beyond his prime puts him in a category with many legendary fighters throughout Boxing history, which Jones certainly belongs in the category of legends. Although I openly expressed my concern in several columns for several outlets including my own here at The Boxing Truth® for Jones’ long-term well-being particularly after he suffered knockout losses, which were severe through the years, I was pleased to see Jones conclude his illustrious career without sustaining a major injury. Some fighters both those who have had success comparable to Jones and those who never get the opportunity to compete for a world championship are not as fortunate.

As some Boxing fans are likely aware, we were reminded in the latter stages of 2018 of just how dangerous combat sports can be. After suffering a brutal knockout loss and the loss of his WBC Light-Heavyweight world championship, longtime champion Adonis Stevenson was hospitalized and remains hospitalized as of this writing after suffering what has been described by several media outlets as traumatic brain injury. The situation surrounding the injury Stevenson suffered has also reignited debate among many in the sport and within the medical community with regard to reforms within Boxing with the aim of preventing circumstances like what happened to Stevenson and what has happened to other fighters over the years from happening again in the future.

Speaking only for myself, I have been hesitant to comment much on the circumstances regarding Stevenson’s injury, condition, and outlook because I am not a medical doctor and as such have no expertise to comment on the circumstances. I will state as I have done on several social media platforms since the fight took place that I felt and still do that the fight was stopped properly with no count being administered by Referee Michael Griffin. Taking the question of medical concerns out of the equation, in my experience as someone who has spent most of his life covering the sport as well as other combat sports, it seems as someone viewing things from the outside that the most potential for long-term damage occurs when fights are allowed to go on longer than they should. Having said this, just as is the case in any sport that involves physical contact, accidents unfortunately do still happen from time to time even with extensive precautions being taken.

While for the reason yours truly has mentioned I choose to stay out of the debate regarding the medical aspects that are involved in regard to Stevenson’s case, I will again say after viewing the knockout and stoppage both as it happened and in the weeks since the fight took place, the stoppage was the appropriate call by the referee and it was not a case where I felt the fight was allowed to go on longer than it should have. The fight was stopped immediately once it became apparent Stevenson was compromised and as things stand currently with regard to safety protocols, I do not believe the fight could have been stopped at a more appropriate time than it was. The debate regarding the safety standards of the sport are likely to continue in the future and if there is a way to improve the current protocols and other measures, everyone involved in the sport from fans, to those of us who cover the sport, to the fighters themselves, and to those who are involved in other capacities should support it.

Getting back to the subject of 2018 being a year of change, there was also another notable exit from the sport of Boxing as longtime powerhouse in the sport in terms of television networks HBO opted to discontinue broadcasting Boxing at the conclusion of it’s 2018 schedule after a forty-five year run that began in 1973. This is also a subject that I have hesitated in discussing much, but for different reasons.

It is and should be no secret to longtime readers that there have been times over the years where I have for lack of a better term agreed to disagree with HBO on a variety of issues related to the sport of Boxing. Despite those disagreements, the network’s decision to back away from the sport after such a rich history that in essence could also serve as a catalog of some of the most memorable moments in Boxing history marks a sad moment for the sport.

Shortly after the network announced its intention to step away from Boxing in September of 2018, I commented on social media that I hoped their decision would be one that would be temporary. While it is true that the sport as a whole as well as all of television on a global scale is undergoing a period of transition as more and more consumers choose to “Cut The Cord” and not subscribe to traditional pay-TV providers in favor of low-cost subscription streaming options, which has become a solid competitor to premium cable networks like HBO, it is sad to see any network/platform choose to step away from a sport or genre that was a consistent ratings winner and revenue generator for many years.

The reality is that HBO, much like its cable competitors are facing competition from digital streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video to name a few. With more and more Over The Top (OTT) digital streaming networks/services being developed and some live TV services like Sling TV and YouTube TV serving as alternatives to traditional cable/satellite pay-TV providers, the challenge for virtually every cable/satellite television network is to attempt to transition into what this observer believes will be the eventual post-cable era where television will almost exclusively be delivered via OTT digital distribution. What this means for Boxing as far as HBO is concerned is at least for the foreseeable future the sport does not figure into the network's plans as it looks to both transition into the future of television as well as remain competitive in both the traditional television and digital streaming mediums.

For the longtime "Network of Champions" its history and legacy in the sport of Boxing is more than secure and anyone who has ever taken part in Boxing on HBO, from the fans, to the people involved in any capacity with the network and in the sport should be proud to have taken part in an important era in Boxing history. For yours truly, I spent many nights in my younger days watching some of the sport's biggest and most historic battles take place on HBO. As someone who is proud to have grown up being a life-long fan and Boxing historian, I can not dispute the influence HBO played not only in my love for the sport, but also my eventual decision to embark on a career covering combat sports with Boxing as my primary focus. Although I have agreed to disagree with the network on several occasions, the landscape of the Boxing world will not be the same without HBO's platform.While some might expect me to air my criticisms of the network as I have done over the year when it was appropriate and as some others in the industry have done sine HBO’s announcement and exit from the sport, I will not do that.  Whether or not the network's decision to step away from the sport is temporary however, or indeed permanent remains to be seen. HBO’s contributions to Boxing will not be forgotten and for those contributions, as I said following HBO's last scheduled Boxing broadcast on December 8th, the sport should join me in saying Thank you HBO.

By now, the reader may have noticed that I have not spent too much time discussing some of the events that took place inside the Boxing ring in 2018. While it is true that the sport is largely driven by what goes on in the ring, there are times where what goes on outside of the ring on the business end of the sport can at times be as significant or even more so than what goes on in the ring. For this observer, the year 2018 in Boxing will be more known for the change and period of transition that began in terms of how Boxing is broadcast and offered to the consumer.

2018 saw the inception of two OTT digital streaming network platforms that have  invested significantly in Boxing and has featured the sport prominently on their respective platforms. I speak of course of ESPN+ and DAZN. For those who have followed this observer’s “Boxing Wishlist” columns that are usually published shortly before  the calendar year for the sport begins (And this year will be no exception) you know that a consistent theme over the years as well in other columns has been a wish to see something introduced here in the United States that would be similar to the United Kingdom’s cable/satellite network BoxNation citing the benefits it could offer the Boxing fan while also possibly serving as an alternative to pay-per-view.

As OTT digital distribution has grown, I felt that a streaming network/service devoted to Boxing could have been introduced that would fulfill that wish for yours truly as well as others who wanted a low-cost option as compared to what this observer has often called an overpriced and undervalued model of pay-per-view. What we now have instead, which will likely be more beneficial than a digital streaming network devoted solely to Boxing is the inception of competing low-cost multi-sport digital streaming networks. The first of these networks to launch was ESPN+ in April of the year.

ESPN+ does not require a cable or satellite subscription to access, but the service is offered along with ESPN's traditional programming through the ESPN app, which is available on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV to name a few. Consumers can choose between a $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year plan to subscribe to ESPN+. With a subscription, ESPN offers access to a wide variety of sporting events that are not otherwise televised on ESPN's traditional linear networks. What this has meant for Boxing has been far greater access to cards from around the world that would not otherwise be televised here in the United States as well as serving as a pay-per-view alternative in showcasing some of the sport's biggest stars including Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Manny Pacquiao in the first months of its existence.

Not to be outdone, DAZN announced its intention to expand it’s existing international digital streaming network into the United States after successful launches in Japan, Germany, and Canada among other countries. Similarly to ESPN+, DAZN, which is also available on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV, is available for $9.99 per month and almost immediately upon it’s U.S. launch set out to disrupt the existing model of both how the sport is offered on cable networks as well as directly placing itself as a competitor to the pay-per-view model.

The key to both networks is the word value. Value both in terms of price as well as in the content being offered. For Boxing fans, DAZN has marketed itself as showing every bout on a card, which is a step above what is normally offered on a pay-per-view card or on a cable network. With rare exceptions, ESPN+ offers most if not all bouts of a card broadcast on its platform. ESPN+ also airs exclusive undercard portions of cards that has main events that are broadcast on ESPN’s traditional linear networks.

In terms of overall costs, if one were to subscribe to both digital streaming networks, they will pay a total of around $170 per year. While that might give an appearance of appearing steep for some, when one factors in that most Boxing pay-per-view events have an average price of $70 or greater per card, you can see the value especially when one considers that both DAZN and ESPN+ are multi-sports networks/streaming services.

With Showtime and Fox Sports also recently extending their existing agreements with the Premier Boxing Champions banner, which involves several promoters, as 2019 now begins the landscape of the sport is one that looks slightly different, but one that is also quite intriguing. How this landscape will affect what goes on inside the ring will be discussed in this observer's "A Boxing Wishlist For 2019", which will be published here on The Boxing Truth® on Wednesday, January 9th. Stay tuned.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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